Oh no, my 2-year-old swallowed a penny! No one told me what to do if your child swallows a penny.
When I was a child, I accidentally swallowed a penny, and a nickel and a dime. These mishaps were never reported to my mother, and thankfully, there were no side effects to complain about either. It may seem odd, but nothing happened at all.
And I am not the only one to suffer this fate.
A few weeks ago a reader asked me a question: my 3-year-old swallowed a penny, do I need to go to the emergency room?
I decided that many mothers and fathers suffer from these same fears, and if a baby swallowed a coin, I might worry that their airways may be blocked, but for the most part, it’s not the end of the world.
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What to Do if Your Child Swallows a Penny
The first and most important thing to do at this time is take a deep breath. Examine the child that swallowed a coin, and check for any symptoms. If the child’s breathing is fine, you’ll find that you don’t have to do much of anything.
Symptoms of Internal Damage
I’m not trying to worry you here, but there is always a very small chance that internal damage can occur when a toddler swallowed a coin. Since the baby’s throat is so small, it may cause tearing or it may get stuck in the digestive tract.
In these scenarios, the child may exhibit:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain in the chest
- Pain in the neck
- Blood in stool
But, again, I’ve had times when my 4, 5 and 6 year old swallowed a penny (playing some random game), and they were all fine. Kids will pass 80% – 90% of objects they swallow, and since a penny is small, there’s really no reason to worry or lose sleep over the ordeal.
What Happens to the Penny?
What happens when you swallow a penny? The body takes care of it. While this may sound gross, think of all the waste you find in your stool. Corn, for example, isn’t digested by the body, so it kind of just comes out when a person has a bowel movement.
The same thing happens with the penny.
The body will realize that the penny offers no nutritional value, so it will try and do its best to discard the penny as quickly as possible. So, the penny will go through the digestive tract and end up in your child’s poop.
Even sharp objects normally make it through the digestive tract without causing severe damage in the process.
Buttons and pennies are common items for a child to swallow.
But what happens if the penny or coin gets lodged in the throat? This will need to be brought to the attention of a medical professional. While I normally go with the flow and see if my children are experiencing any ill side effects, others recommend a swift trip to get X-rays.
Many moms will choose to examine their child’s stool to see if the penny has made its way out of the body.
If you find the penny in the child’s stool and no other side effects are experienced, there isn’t any cause for concern at this time.
Pennies that need to be worried about are 1982 or later pennies.
See, the chemical makeup of pennies changed because they were too expensive to make from copper. The government started to add in a corrosive form of zinc into the pennies which has the potential to greatly irritate the child’s throat and esophagus if it gets lodged in either of them.
My Infant Swallowed a Coin. Will She Die?
If the airways are not blocked, your child should be fine. Some 30,000 kids were sent to the emergency room after swallowing a coin in 2003, so it’s a common occurrence with the vast majority of children being fine after the incident.
Obviously, you have an emergency situation on your hand if:
- The child has difficulty speaking
- The child has difficulty swallowing
- The child has difficulty breathing
If any of these issues are found, you’ll want to perform the Heimlich maneuver and help dislodge the object from the child’s throat. This can lead to death, so also contact emergency professionals.
A child that has a coin lodged in their throat or that has experienced tearing from the coin may also have issues, including:
- Difficulty breathing
You’ll also need to call emergency professionals at this time. Your child may also contract a respiratory infection which will present itself with excessive mucus, running nose and throat irritation.
Treatment Options for a Swallowed Coin
If your child is having symptoms after swallowing the coin, you will need to consult with your doctor and take immediate action. The treatment for the child may include any of the following:
- An x-ray will be the first and most important thing done
- An endoscope will be used to remove the object in most cases
- The doctor may recommend a wait-and-see approach
An endoscope will involve some anesthesia for the child, but this involves a small object passing through the esophagus and grabbing the coin or other object that is causing the issues. While this is still a form of surgery, it’s a mild surgery where the child will not be cut open.
In most cases, an endoscope is the only form of surgery needed.
When the coin has passed below or into the stomach, there’s a great chance that it will pass all on its own. You want the coin to pass, and this is what the wait-and-see approach is all about. Now, if your child swallowed something like a battery and it was found in the stomach, the doctor may recommend removing it as it can cause serious internal damage.
It’s very easy to swallow a small, circular watch battery or something similar.
What Not to Do if Your Child Is Exhibiting Side Effects
A child that is showing symptoms should go right to the doctor for treatment. In the meantime, there are a few things you don’t want to do that can make matters worse:
- Give the child food
- Give the child a drink
- Make the child vomit
If you perform any of the actions above, you can cause more harm than good. You want to seek immediate medical attention instead to ensure that your doctor is onboard with whatever approach you deem necessary.
Protecting a Child From Swallowing Coins
Children are curious, and while no one wants to equate a child to a dog, they both like to try and eat everything. It’s not that your child isn’t a good child or wants to cause himself harm, but they’re curious what the coin feels and tastes like.
They also like to make games out of everything.
It’s up to you to do your best to keep these objects out of reach of your child. A few good ideas to stop your child from getting a hold of coins is to:
- Put all coins in a coin jar that the child can’t reach
- Put all wallets and purses out of the child’s reach
- Use a debit card to eliminate loose change
- Remove all coins from your car, sofa, counters and furniture
You need to be very diligent to remove all of your coins, but with enough time and effort, you’ll find that your home can be a coin-free oasis where you need to only worry about all the other objects kids have a tendency to eat: toys, batteries, paper, plastic – everything.